I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about The Gaslight Anthem for a couple of months now. It’s challenging. When I wrote my giant mash note to Edie Carey and Rose Cousins, I was writing about a couple of singer-songwriters who were basically unknown except to a handful of dedicated and devoted fans, in the hopes that other people might start spreading the word.
It’s different for The Gaslight Anthem. They actually are getting airplay, and eMusic even called their sophmore album, The ’59 Sound, released in August of last year, the best album of 2008: “Because they are destined for greatness, and because this album means they’ve already achieved it.” And where I could gush about Edie Carey and Rose Cousins and talk about how they made me feel in ways I hadn’t felt in a long time, I can’t do the same about The Gaslight Anthem — not because their music isn’t emotionally evocative or anything, but because it doesn’t work in the same way. Mostly.
They’re just really, really, really good. And where I loved Another Kind of Fire with my heart, I love The ’59 Sound with the part of my brain that likes to pretend it knows something about music. I love the way Brian Fallon manages to somehow blend Jersey Shore with punk rock sensibilities, the fact that they’re unashamed about cribbing lyrics, titles, and themes from movies and literature, the fact that once again music seems to be telling stories. And the sound — holy hell, it’s good. The post title does a good job of describing it, because it’s not quite like anything you’ve heard before but is immediately familiar if you grew up listening to music in the 1970s or 1980s. Echoy reverb for the vocals and big, pounding arena-rock-ish drums.
You get this feeling, listening to the album, of dusty back roads, old cars, dead-end jobs, and a longing for escape. I’m fascinated by songwriting that can transport you to a specific time and place, and this stuff feels very much like the sort of music you might write if you had to live in Texlahoma circa 1960. Trapped, unhappy, trying to get out — and these are your experiences.
But then there’s “Here’s Looking At You, Kid”:
You can tell Gail if she calls
That I’m famous now for all these rock and roll songs
And even if that’s a lie she should’ve given me a try
When we were kids on the field of the first day of school
I would have been her fool
And I would have sang out her name in those old high school halls
You tell that to Gail, if she calls
And you can tell Jane if she writes
That I’m drunk off all those stars and all these crazy Hollywood nights
That’s total deceit, but she should have married me
And tell her I spent every night of my youth on the floor
Bleeding out from all these wounds
I would’ve gotten her a ride out of that town she despised
You tell that to Janey, if she writes
But boys will be boys
And girls have those eyes
That’ll cut you to ribbons sometimes
And all you can do is just wait by the moon
And bleed if it’s what she says you oughta do
You remind Nana if she asks why
That a thief stole my heart while she was making up her mind
I heard she lives in Brooklyn with the cool
Goes crazy over that New York scene on 7th avenue
But I used to wait at the diner
A million nights without her
Praying she won’t cancel again tonight
And the waiter served my coffee with a consolation sigh
You remind Nana, if she asks why
And then you realize that you can love this album with your heart, too. What can you say to that kind of brutal honesty, the conversation you always wanted to have with your ex-flames or the great, unrequited love of your life? I turn that bridge over and over in my head, and I keep thinking about how you sometimes find music that captures some fundamental truth — and there it is. “And girls have those eyes / that’ll cut you to ribbons sometimes.” Oh, wow. It’s not the sort of song whose meaning you immediately get when you’re under about 25; the true emotional resonance comes later in life.
In the end, I’m not sure this album is for everyone. Scouting around, I found a lot of criticism that it’s not actually punk. I don’t pay enough attention to punk to know whether this is a fair criticism or not, but I’m also fairly sure I don’t care. It exists in its own space of awesome; much like lovers of a particular brand of Nova Scotia beer, I suspect that those who like Gaslight will like it a lot, and the rest will be somewhat indifferent. You’ll either get it or you won’t, but it really deserves a good solid listen with an open mind. Either it’ll blow you away from the first track, or you’ll shrug and move on.
On a shorter note, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I also have a guilty, lightweight favorite right now: Valerie Poxleitner, a.k.a. (d.b.a.?) Lights, Canada’s answer to, uh, Bjork. Shut up. It’s good.